Renato “Rainier” Liboro comes from two generations of physicians, so it was no surprise that he followed family tradition and became a doctor and general surgeon in his native country, the Philippines. When he moved to Canada, however, he encountered roadblocks to practicing medicine, including years of retaking exams and having to complete another residency. That prospect led Liboro to reboot his career and rediscover psychology, his undergraduate discipline. He earned a Ph.D. in community psychology and joined UNLV as an assistant professor in the department of psychology in 2019. Today he’s a community-based participatory researcher studying issues impacting sexual and gender minorities.
What drew you to UNLV?
I was doing a postdoctoral fellowship at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, the largest mental health institution in Canada. I’d been living in Canada for about 15 years and had been trying to find an academic position with a great fit for about three years. My stipend and research were funded by federal grants, but I preferred to have a permanent position in academia, preferably at a research-intensive university. That’s when I found UNLV, or maybe, it found me.
UNLV was doing a cluster hire of researchers for different departments with a focus on health disparities back then, which was really cool. One position was for the department of psychology, so I decided to I apply for it. An interdisciplinary collaboration for this research focus was a really good idea, and it was one of the things that drew me to pursue a job here.
Tell us about your role here.
As a community-based participatory researcher, I conduct research on health disparities that impact the mental health and well-being of minority populations and other underserved communities, usually in collaboration with relevant community stakeholders. I work with sexual and gender minorities, racial and ethnic minorities, and older adults with episodic or hidden disabilities. I appreciate and respect the work done by many community-based organizations and stakeholders because I identify as a sexual and racial minority myself. It’s meaningful for me to do this kind of research work.
Tell us about a project in the last year that you’re proud of.
Right before I accepted my position here at UNLV, I was working on a project in Toronto that I eventually had to finish here. We were investigating the perspectives and lived experiences of racially and ethnically diverse older men who have sex with men (MSM) on their resilience to the clinical and social impacts of HIV/AIDS. We were able to continue that qualitative study. We conducted 55 interviews, so it was a huge data set from both urban and rural settings. Our participants had a wide age range. They were sexual minorities who identified in different ways — gay, bisexual, two-spirit, or MSM. We were fortunate enough to finish the data collection in Toronto before my move to Las Vegas, but we had to do most of the analysis of the interviews here. I got to do that as a scholar at UNLV.
Tell us more about your “aha” moment in your career, switching to community psychology.
As an immigrant in Canada, I had an opportunity to reinvent myself and consider a different career. I looked into different fields and disciplines but I kept going back to psychology, which was my undergraduate degree. My “aha” moment came when I found community psychology and learned about its principles and practices related to community engagement, diversity, inclusion, equity, and social justice. I was just blown away with the notion of being able to conduct research in collaboration with relevant communities on research topics that were relevant to them. I knew this is what I wanted to do for the next part of my life.
What was your biggest misconception about Las Vegas before you got here?
I used to visit Vegas as a tourist and, of course, I came here for my interview, and for the summer before my move. That was before we started the fall semester, and it was extremely hot. My misconception was I thought it was going to be dry and hot throughout most of the year. Thankfully that’s not true. It’s just really hot in the summer, and then during the fall, it cools down. My husband and I are really happy about it.
Outside of your research, what are you passionate about?
Being a professor is a win-win for me because even when I was a medical doctor back home, I enjoyed teaching. We were required to teach in our hospital’s affiliated medical school. Being able to teach and mentor the next generation of scholars, researchers, and professionals here at UNLV is something that I am really passionate about. I’ve been blessed with so much in my lifetime, and I feel it is the best way to pay it forward.
What do lay people appreciate about your field?
Many of our community partners appreciate that they can provide input and give feedback to our research. In community psychology, they get to influence it as stakeholders. From the beginning of the research process, they help identify a research question that’s important to them. Every step of the way, they get to influence the kind of method we’re going to use and the different ways we can approach people to participate. We approached community-based organizations here such as the LGBTQ Center of Southern Nevada, the Southern Nevada Health District’s Ryan White Program, Aid for AIDS of Nevada, the Golden Rainbow, and the Community Counseling Center of Southern Nevada. They have agreed to support and collaborate with us, and in particular, to help us recruit participants.
What did you do last weekend?
It was the first time that my spouse and I went over to our friends’ house for dinner since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We haven’t accepted an invitation to do so for a long time. We’ve been able to eat out more recently, usually on a restaurant patio, or have a drink. At our friends’ dinner party, we did not wear masks because we were all vaccinated. We’ve known each other for quite a while. It was cathartic. They had been just as cautious as we were about not getting sick, but we were able to give each other hugs and talk up close. We got a bit emotional. We haven’t had much human interaction for the last 15 months.
What would an ideal vacation look like?
My ideal vacation would be to go somewhere my husband and I have not been able to visit together. Perhaps somewhere in Europe or Asia and not to have to think about work responsibilities and other obligations. Being a tenure-track professor, my brain is always going and thinking of things I need to do. So, even on the weekend I can’t switch off. An ideal vacation would be a break from everything, somewhere calm and relaxing!
What do you miss most about campus?
I really miss the in-person interaction. Learning to teach remotely on Webex and Zoom was OK. I adjusted pretty quickly. Remote learning has its value as it allows a lot of people in different circumstances to get a university education. But I really miss the opportunity to engage with colleagues and students because it’s more personal. I have a hard time staring at screens with people’s cameras off, and hardly anywhere to focus my eyes. In a class of 25 or 30 students on Webex, the connection is not the same. Hopefully, we get back to in-person instruction soon. I know that’s the plan for the fall, so here’s hoping everything will work out.
What have been some silver linings in all of this?
This pandemic has reminded us how resilient we can be as people. People can work together despite overwhelming challenges as long as we remain respectful of each other’s preferences, choices, and diverse circumstances. The university reminded everybody that the pandemic has affected us all. It reminded faculty and staff to be more respectful and mindful of the circumstances of students because they have been undergoing a really difficult time. Of course, we also reminded each other to be kind to one another. We can overcome these challenges. I think that’s the silver lining, and hopefully that will carry us through until this pandemic is over.